In teaching spontaneity has a greater power than planned outpourings though planning is fundamental to traditional theories of teaching. Spontaneity brings out original thoughts. It corresponds with the need of the circumstances, and creates the most suitable statements to the mood of the audience.
No doubt, planning is useful. But it depends. Is what we deliver a set of PowerPoint slides prepared ages ago, and printed, photocopied and handed to the dear pupils in each session for their exam-time convenience? Or is it a formal lesson plan designed for a specific class situation, which the teacher updates every session, and which helps augment students’ learning through self-study, reflection, internalization and reconstruction?
I usually do not work with ready-made handouts. I only reflect on and take notes of what I might say in the class. I thus want to compel myself to deliver the best from the internalized knowledge. My initial classes are filled with guidelines, not necessarily in the form of setting rules for students. I say that certain rules, like giving regular classes, making students regular and conducting tests are my works, but my being a leader automatically draws students towards them. I say I would not repeatedly remind them of the rules because I consider the students mature enough to understand the right ways. The point is they should know that by making them work I am adding to my own stock of responsibilities.
I think the best thing I tell them is that a human being is a thinking and feeling creature and, therefore, has to save herself from being a machine. Life is less formula than feelings though formulas help shape a section of our professional future. Our lives are also guided largely by the works of others, or say, the thoughts of others. This sets for us the requirement to be associated with people who think and create ideas. Teachers seek this association in other teachers, and also with students. Students have teachers and their class fellows to fulfill this need.
I do not forget to explain the rationale of prescribing the contents of the courses. Every theme has a purpose, way beyond a compulsion to study and take exams. My first lecture explains why we teach a story in place of the other, how one text relates with the other and with the lives of the readers as well. Moreover, I make it a point to show what one gets to learn from certain writers and texts. I work in full adherence to V.S. Ramachandran’s warnings: “Did you enjoy doing what you did?” and “Did it really make an impact?” To me joy is what I feel from being able to make students realize the value of learning. And the impact need not always be outward, directed to changing our surroundings. It is equally important to experience some kind of transformation in ourselves. Any academic, creative task we do in a university should have the quality of giving direction to at least a few people including ourselves.
My classes teach me to teach better. I like to treat every new student as a mysterious stock of knowledge, sentiments and challenges. If you take her as a mere creature, you will not see her beyond a semester. If you take her as a thinking and feeling being, stop for a while to meditate on the potentials she bears. This is why I love to share the fancy of being old and mature and useful so that the students might fancy identifying with this vision of being old and mature and useful. This is called making people think beyond rules and formulas. My contribution in this sense lies in instilling, and sometimes reviving, this humane sense out of the monotony and rush for driving towards dreams and fulfillments.
This is why the ready-made slides and handouts work only little with me. I do not either regret for not having any of them because I do not identify my success as a teacher with the sight of students breathlessly cramming slides and handouts few minutes before the examination bell. My satisfaction rather lies in those contented faces, which head smugly in and out of classrooms and exam halls on all seasons. I have all reasons to be happy for this notoriety of discouraging mechanical learning.
[From Midlife Montage]